Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Darien, Georgia as a Military Target

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 20, 2013

Over the last several months, Craig Swain has been doing steady, diligent work in blogging (often in sesqui-real-time) the military campaigns around Charleston. He’s told some familiar stories, but much of his output is wholly original research, put together through a variety of official records, memoranda, and contemporary photos. It’s small-scale, fine-grained history at its best.

Today, Craig has a new post up discussing the role that the little coastal town of Darien, Gerogia played in blockade-running. Darien is best known now as the town that was burned by Union Colonel (and former wild-eyed Kansas Jayhawker) James Montgomery in June 1863.  This incident is widely regarded as a wanton and unnecessary act of spite on Montgomery’s part, and formed an important story element in the 1989 film Glory. (If your knowledge of Darien is based primarily on its depiction in that film, you’d never realize it was a small port in the first place.) Craig uses the story of the capture of the blockade runner Chatham in December 1863, though, to make the clear case that Darien was not only a point for bringing supplies in (and cotton out) of the Confederacy, but that it served as a distribution point for Confederate military forces on that part of the Georgia coast. As such, the docks and warehouses of Darien — though not the town itself — was a legitimate military target:


This minor incident does indicate Darien was a port which blockade runners could, and did, use.  The bar was but a few fathoms deep at most.  But light draft craft, of the type frequently used for running the blockade, could make Doboy Sound if well piloted.  So [Union Admiral] Dahlgren had to allocate one of his valuable gunboats to the sound.   The Huron was one of twelve blockaders assigned to the Georgia coast at that time, including two monitors guarding against any possible breakout of the CSS Savannah.
And turn this incident around.  The Confederates used the Chatham as a transport before this blockade running attempt. The steamer had descended down from Savannah by way of the backwater channels.  If the Chatham could work her way down, other light craft could work their way up the coast.  Darien was not only a possible port of call for blockade runners, but also along a waterway bringing supplies to the Confederate army.
Even with all this, I would not offer an excuse for Colonel James Montgomery’s actions.  But there is ample justification for the orders which sent the raid there in June of 1863.  The town was not removed from the war as some would contend.  The docks of Darien, Georgia were part of the Confederate war effort, and were a proper military objective.


Kudos to Craig for telling these stories, and applying hard research to better understand a singularly inflammatory subject.



Q. How Old was General Hood at Gettysburg?

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on June 26, 2010

A. Thirty-two.

Hood as portrayed by (l. to r.) Patrick Gorman in Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003), Levon Helm in In the Electric Mist (2009) and himself in real life (c. 1865).

Picking up a thread of an idea from David Woodbury at Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles, I’ve been thinking about how film and television typically portrays Civil War figures. Most often they’re depicted substantially older than they really were. I’m not necessarily speaking of the actor’s actual age versus character’s (because actors routinely play much younger characters), but more generally his apparent age — how he’s made to look. It’s easy to see why this would be the case. When an actor portraying a Civil War figures actually is about the right age for the character, it’s often jarring for the viewer, to whom it doesn’t “feel” right even if, in fact, it is. Matthew Broderick was 25 or 26 when he shot Glory; his character, Robert Gould Shaw, was exactly that age at the time of the events depicted in the film. Nonetheless, although the actor and the role were perfectly matched for age, it still didn’t “look right” for a lot of people, and probably harmed the overall public reception of the movie. People just couldn’t see someone that young, in that role. (Being known at the time primarily for his role as as Ferris Bueller didn’t help.)

But this just highlights something that we might easily forget — the vast majority of these men, from private to general, were very young by modern standards. At the beginning of the war, Ulysses S. Grant was 39. George Meade was 45. George McClellan was 36. George Pickett was 36. James Longstreet was 40, as was John George Walker. Stonewall Jackson was 37. William Tecumseh Sherman was 41, and so on. Robert E. Lee was 54, the “old man,” not just because of the senior position he held, but because he was, by the standard of the day, objectively and factually old.

There are lots of exceptions, of course — Albert Sidney Johnston was nearly 60 when he got plinked at Shiloh — but still it amazes me how young these men were when so much rested on their shoulders.

Update: Argghh! Dimitri Rotov has stolen a march on me on this very topic over at Civil War Bookshelf.